Have you made any New Year’s resolutions yet? I’m usually lucky if mine last more than a few months. But here are a few of them.
No. 1: Check my perspective more often. Some people are glad to say goodbye 2016. Others think it was a pretty darn good year. Recently, I read a social media post that rendered 2016 as a terrible year because of all the untimely Hollywood deaths – as if the year itself was the arbiter of their demise. Never mind that some of them died too early not because 2016 was the Grim Reaper, but because they abused drugs for so many years. Sometimes, cruelty is foisted upon us. Other times, we plant its seeds years before, then bemoan it when it comes calling.
The holidays aren’t easy for everyone to get through. Sometimes, we struggle through them amidst fractured relationships, hurt feelings, or squandered expectations. Other times, our perspective allows us to look beyond those roadblocks to our peace. Abraham Lincoln once said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” Sometimes I look at the thorns, other times the roses.
No. 2: Slow down … a lot. In his book, Seven Traits of an Empty Self, author and philosopher J.P. Moreland writes: “Because an empty self has a deep emotional emptiness and hunger, and because it has devised inadequate strategies to fill that emptiness, a frenzied pace of life emerges to keep the pain of emptiness suppressed.” Sound familiar? I sometimes feel guilty that my kids aren’t as involved as they should be — especially when I see Facebook posts about the three and four travel teams with which everyone else’s kids seem involved — until I read wisdom like this, and am reminded of how wounded our culture’s vision is. Families spend less time together, and individuals have little or no time to quiet themselves long enough to hear the Voice of the One who can truly give us peace.
No. 3: Be OK when my plans don’t work out exactly as I expected. One of my family members has a sign hanging in their home that sums it up: “Life is about how you handle plan B.” I’m a planner. But I’ve learned through the years to fill my calendar using pencil. Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans. I can either be upset when things go off the rail, or look to the present to see what God has in store today.
No. 4: Stop being as stubborn as my own kids. Much to my wife and my chagrin, our daughters are both on social media. Though we monitor it, sometimes things fall through the cracks. My “blueprint” for their happiness is to try to loosen social media’s grasp on them as often as I can. In doing that, the most amazing thing happens: First, they get mad at me. Second, the drama in their life subsides. Third, the drama in our life collapses. But the “blueprint” my wife and I lay out for our kids is there to help them be free, and ultimately happier.
Maybe it’s the same with our faith. Maybe I could learn a thing or two by trusting in God’s “blueprint” for me rather than “going it alone.” Maybe if Hollywood uploaded God a little more often, the passing years would seem less cruel.
I know not what’s in store for me in the coming years. I pray not much suffering. But I’ve seen enough of it in my former career to know that God is its nemesis rather than architect. There’s wisdom in following the “blueprint” written not only by Someone wiser than I, but One who experienced lots of grief.
Our Catholic schools and churches aren’t utopias. Human nature is present in all of them. But I find solace in the fact that if I send my kids there, they might find an abiding perspective that helps them through this often-precarious life, and gives them the proper glasses to read a blueprint that might keep them from perils that our culture won’t warn them against.
Paul Stuligross is director of campus ministry at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Preparatory and a former police officer.